I am one of those who believe, very firmly, that “secret intelligence” ought to be an extraordinarily secretive business. Thus I believe that one-sided opinion pieces, like the one in a (weeks old) video on the Globe and Mail‘s website do more harm than good. Yes, the “five eyes” exists and has since World War II; yes, it is enormously sophisticated; yes it got even more “serious” since 9/11 in the sense that the focus shifted. The “five eyes” was always a SIGINT prime agency because, as civilian and military leaders from Rommel to Reagan said, SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) always provided the lion’s share (maybe 95%) of really useful, timely intelligence.
It is not, I think, true that Britain and the USA (GCHQ and the NSA) have an incestously close relationship since 9/11. In fact, I suspect that relations, since Iraq have been strained, to be charitable.
The current emphasis on “data flow” is, accurately, described at 6’15” of the linked video, as being essential, but it is neither “totalitarian” or “unlawful.” The fact is that we live in an electronically “noisy” era and the Signals Intelligence services need to penetrate and sift through the noise, you and I and three billion others chattering away, to “harvest” a few nuggets of useful intelligence.
Professor Richard Aldrich, early in the video, gets it right: it is about looking for changes to established “indicators,” like rail traffic and blood plasma purchases. It is, in fact, mostly, a rather mundane business ~ but a vital one.
The “end of the Cold War” never, really, happened. The 1990s did see the demise of the Soviet Union but Russia remained a baleful, unpredictable threat ~ and opportunistic, adventurous troublemaker on the global stage.
William Binney make a case, but a poor one, that most Cold War SIGINT services are all about power and empire building. General Michael Hayden, on the other hand, at about 4’10” on the video, explains the dilemma of having to look ‘through’ legitimate (protected by law) communications to find the “chatter” of e.g. terrorist networks. The world has changed, but Mr Binney fails to grasp that. Intelligence services bear watching, directly, by elected politicians, not remote, arms length, third parties, but they are not now and are highly unlikely to become “threats to democracy.”
Good intelligence is an essential tool for strategic decision making and good intelligence gathering is, of necessity, a secretive business. Elected politicians should, themselves, learn about and understand the role, nature and capabilities (and limitations) of their security and intelligence services (the two are different) and should be able to assure Canadians that what e.g. William Binney says, in the linked video, is, mostly, nonsense.